Posted on Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Encouragement

No one could have predicted that this year would have gone the way it’s gone. Here in the US we will celebrate Thanksgiving this week, and in 2020 fashion it may not be the celebration you are used to. No matter how you feel going into the holiday, Marko has some encouragement for you from Zephaniah 3:17

During this season of Thanksgiving, we want you to know how thankful we are for you and how much you give of yourself to teenagers. 

Your Friends at The Youth Cartel

Posted on Leave a comment

Twelve Things I Love About Middle School Ministry

A number of years ago i wrote a post listing reasons why i love middle school ministry. and recently, i re-wrote that post as a column for youthwork magazine (in the UK). here’s my list (realize that “middle school ministry” doesn’t mean anything in the UK, so i use their term “11 – 14s” or young teens instead):

  1. Young teen ministry is about shaping. What an opportunity! Everything I learn about young teens continues to affirm and re-affirm that this is not merely a holding period until the good stuff of older teen work.
  2. 11 – 14s are easy to connect with. Years ago, a youth ministry mentor shared this simple observation: 11 – 14s, in their decision as to whether they’ll allow you into their lives, are only asking the question, “Do you like me?” Older teens complicate it more by adding, “Do I like you?” And university students ramp up the complexity by layering on the additional question, “Do I like what you stand for?” 
  3. They’re willing to try anything. The young teen years (in a post-puberty parallel to the first few years of life) are all about discovery or sampling. Young teens, in the earliest stages of self-conscious identity formation, want to try everything. They don’t start testing conclusions until the middle teen years. This is a wild ride of unpredictability, of course, and can feel very scattered and capricious. But there’s willingness—even desire—to try things that makes young teens prime for creative and participatory youth work.
  4. The wonder of abstract thinking. 11 – 14s are far from experienced with abstract thought. But the capacity is there (I like to think of it as God’s puberty gift). And they’re dipping their toes in the water, checking it out.
  5. The process of doubts and faith development. Tied to the development of abstract thinking, young teens are on the leading edge of stumbling onto doubts about their faith. This is a critical aspect of faith development and should never be shamed or shut down. Wrestling with complexities is the necessary detour from childlike, inherited faith to a more robust, owned faith.
  6. They’re unpredictable. Maybe you find this frustrating, but I love it. Young teens regularly and consistently surprise me. They surprise me with their random questions. They surprise me with their hidden talents. They surprise me with their insight. They surprise me with their interpretations (often different than I expect). The unpredictability of 11 – 14s keeps young teen ministry fresh and untamed.
  7. Parents are still involved. Sure, there are plenty of older teens with involved parents. But there’s a drop-off in parent involvement throughout the teen years, as many parents retreat out of fear, exasperation, or a misguided understanding of what it means to give their teenagers independence. We know that parents have a significantly larger shaping role in the lives and faith of their teenagers than we do, so this higher level of parent involvement creates an easier path to coming alongside parents, partnering for greater impact.
  8. They have more time than older teenagers. Yes, young teens are busier than ever; but they still have more time and availability than their older peers. Mix this in with their #3 above (their willingness to try anything), and you’ve got a potent pot of “let’s do stuff!”
  9. Most are not yet jaded. 14 year-olds can start to get a little jaded (some of ‘em). Older teenagers—holy cow—can wear cynicism and “been there, done that” as comfortably as Lady Gaga wears a meat suit. But most young teens possess wonderfully low levels of cynicism and naiveté that looks a lot like hope.
  10. They’re passionate. I love the “all in” attitude of most 11 – 14s. It’s not only their willingness to try things (mentioned in #3 above); they’re also passionate about the things they try, the opinions they voice, the beliefs they hold. The funny thing is: they’re passionate about things that, often, they won’t be passionate about in two months or two years.
  11. They’re forgiving. When you mess up, or have an off night in your teaching, or plan a lame event, or say something dumb, young teens are quick to forgive (particularly if you ask for it). The travel time back to normal (whatever that is!) is extremely short.
  12. They’re fun! Young teens keep me feeling young (not so easy at 50 years-old). They’re playful and hilarious, goofy, and unselfconscious. Young teens remind me, regularly, of what a joy-filled life should look like.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Power of Story

power of storyHave you ever wondering where stories come from and why they are so powerful?

The origin of story is found in something we lovingly refer to as oral tradition. From the dawn of time, human beings gathered together to share in story – story of life’s origin, story of purpose, story of definition and story of hope. Every human culture that has ever existed has elevated story to be the capstone of their existence. We are immersed in story.

Story is in the sinew that binds the human narrative together.

One of my favourite things to do as a parent is to tell stories to my children. Sometimes these stories are about my own childhood memories; sometimes the stories I tell are focused on producing some sort of desired response; and at other times stories are simply about celebrating something.

Stories are powerful because they matter to us. Here are three ways the power of story is revealed.

Story inspires. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve gotta great story to tell?” They proceed to dive into a great tale of some triumph or failure, evoking emotion, engagement and wonder as a result. Great stories are ones that inspire us in some way. Inspiration is a fickle thing. At times it demands an active response, and at others it invokes a pensive state. In all its forms, great story-telling catapults the listener into an emotively saturated climate called inspiration.

Story celebrates. The best stories told through image or words are those that seek to elevate a cause, an individual or a dilemma that is worth celebrating. While Hollywood has done society a great disservice is many regards, what Hollywood does do well is celebrate great stories. Historical turning points, social awareness issues and personal triumphs have been captivated in print or on-screen in ways that have allowed millions of people to be influenced in some way. Awards shows like the Grammys & Emmys provide a platform through which the telling of story is honoured, and the stories themselves may gain the recognition and joy they deserve.

Story breathes. Stories are alive. Don’t believe me? Try telling someone a story and see what happens. Stories evoke question, wonder & hope at the drop of a hat. What we say, how we say it, and how we choose to live in response to what we’ve experienced are signs of life…life that is wrought into existence by the power of story.

One of my goals as a leader is to learn to harness the power of story in my own life – knowing that what I say and what I do are stitching together a narrative that influences the world around me. More importantly, knowing that my life as story exists within the context of a greater unfolding story known as human existence, which has been authored by a creator God in a loving and determined fashion.

It’s this story that all of human kind finds itself immersed in. Which leaves me to ponder how we are engaging the power of story in all its forms to inspire, celebrate & breathe in present reality and the not so distant future? What do you think?

Posted on Leave a comment

Two keys to working with people

I recently returned from a cross-cultural experience with teens. Trips like these always provide students (and leaders) with valuable memories, opportunities for conversations, growth and potentially life-changing experiences.

This is one of many different trips that I’ve been a part of in the youth ministry world over the years. Each time I’ve travelled to a different country, experienced a different culture, or have simply taken the time to be present with a group of people I’ve noticed that there are two primary values (keys) that drive connection: a place to belong and someone who believes in you.

These values aren’t limited to culture, context, age or gender. They simply exist because they speak to the core needs of humankind. So if these values happen to be the root motivators for connection, what does that mean for us as leaders who work with people? I’m not an expert in this material at all, but I would suggest there are some key shifts that may need to take place in the systems and communities we leaders create.

 

A place of belonging. There are numerous articles written by people who are much smarter than I am on this particular subject matter. Here is one of my favourites written by a friend of mine, Mr. Mark Oestricher.

The question that belonging answers is “where do I fit?” If the communities, activities and environments we help create answer this question for the people we hope to serve, then we are on to something. But, what if the reverse is actually true? What if the sub-culture we’ve created is based on something other than acceptance and love and polarises people rather than embraces them?

Can you believe different and still find connection with those around you? If we foster a place to belong we value and embody love ahead of anything else.


Someone who believes in you. Every single person who is in existence, has existed or will exist in the future needs someone who believes in them in their life. Someone who comes along and speaks hope and life into you at a dark place in life. Someone who has your best interest in mind in the way the speak to you and interact with you. Someone who isn’t willing to see the dark side of our human nature overshadow the hopefulness of the image of God that exists in every human being.

Without someone who believes in us, we may never find the strength to persevere through tough times or the hope to carry on when things don’t seem to make any sense. What if having someone that believes in us is a literal matter of life or death? No one can walk through life alone, nor should they believe the lie that says they have to. Do our ministry efforts foster a culture of belief and hopefulness through the exchange of respect, honour, love and admiration?

 

Do you agree with these two ideas? What would you add or subtract from this conversation?

Posted on Leave a comment

When your leadership feels threatened

threat

Every leader will face a season where his or her influence seems to be fading. Sometimes this can be due to age, sometimes to irrelevance or sometimes due to a copious amount of mistakes that are made.

In other moments and seasons, a diminishing influence in leadership may occur when a younger and perhaps even more gifted leader comes into the picture.

The biblical narrative is chalked full of a number of different stories of leadership transitions, both positive and negative. For the purpose of this short article I simply want to focus on two such stories highlighted by Dave Brotherton in his live interview with Mark Buchanan conducted online through Canadian Youth Worker here.

 

Saul meets David

Saul was the first king of the nation of Israel. The story of Saul and David begins with David defeating an enemy, Goliath, who was terrorising the Israelites. David, a teenager at the time, fought Goliath in battle. No one from Saul’s court or mighty army was willing to lead out in battle against this supposed giant.

In this moment, David not only seized a level of authority and fame, but also elevated his leadership voice substantially.

As this story progresses, Saul becomes increasingly threatened by the ability, talent and popularity of David. At one point, Saul tries to end David’s life by hurtling a spear at his head…side note, if someone physically threatens you as a leader, I would say this classifies as a failed leadership transition…just saying.

Saul maintained the title of authority, but David’s leadership ability and anointing from God elevated him to a place that surpassed Saul.

Every leader will face their own David and/or Saul moment. As a youth pastor, there are leaders and teens in my ministry who are going to do even greater things that what I’ve been able to accomplish in my leadership thus far (and in the future). I have a decision to make when the stories of these brazen, young & incredibly gifted leaders collide with my own leadership story. Will I hurl a spear at their heads hoping to wound or kill their ability, or will I have the confidence to step outside of myself, lend whatever leadership reputation I may have built to these younger leaders for the sake of the Kingdom?

 

Eli mentors Samuel

Eli was the high priest of Israel at the time when a young boy named Samuel came to live with him. One evening, the Lord began to speak to Samuel (which was a privilege typically reserved for the priesthood in Israel…of which Samuel was not yet a part of). Samuel, not knowing what was happening runs to Eli several times seeking to respond to what he thinks is Eli calling out to him.

 

At some point, Eli clues in that Samuel is hearing the voice of God, and instead of letting his jealousy overwhelm him…he coaches Samuel to embrace the Lord’s invitation. Eli knew he was being passed over, and he could have held on to what “he built” for the sake of his family and his reputation, but instead he allowed wisdom to shape his decision to celebrate Samuel instead of destroy him.

 

So when threats occur…

When your leadership feels threatened will you throw a tantrum like Saul, or embrace wisdom like Eli and support, coach, empower and cheer on those who will do more amazing things that we can possibly imagine?

Are there people in your current sphere of influence as a leader that you need to begin to view differently in light of these two stories? What is God saying to you, and what are you doing about it?

Posted on Leave a comment

What’s in a Name?

I remember the first moment when I found out I was going to be a dad. Mixed emotions of excitement, nervousness and joy flooded into my soul. The weight of responsibility of caring for and discipling a young child into adulthood became the focus of my thought power and energy leading up to the moment of birth (and beyond!). Of all the responsibilities associated with being a parent, none seemed as important as providing a great start for this new child by choosing the name they would live into.

My wife Bonny and I spent countless hours creating names for our children. We created a spreadsheet listing all the leading name candidates, researching their meaning and dreaming about what we hoped our children would live into in terms of values, character and aspirations for their future.

The day came where we met each of our three children and called them by name. In that moment everything seemed settled, new, hope-filled and amazing.

Fast forward a couple of years and these young little babies who are now young children are beginning to live into and own the name that they have been given. They respond to it when it’s called (for the most part…), they introduce themselves by it and they know how to write it. My kids are beginning to share who they are with others, starting with their name.

I often marvel at the power that names have in each of our lives. Working with teens I’ve seen firsthand the positive and negative effects of names or labels that have been placed on these kids by those who they trusted and cared about. How we speak to each other and what references or names we use matter. The grade 7 boy who is home-schooled is more than just a home-schooler. The grade 10 girl who has dated half the youth group is more than just the floozy. The student that lives in the rough part of town is more than an underprivileged kid.

The names we share with one another and we give to others matter. What names are you using to refer to the teens and families under your sphere of influence and care? Are they names that breathe life into their souls, or names that reinforce all the lies they may be tempted to believe about who they are? What’s in a name, and does a name really matter?

Posted on Leave a comment

Kingdom Diversity

This post also appears on Canadian Youth Worker here.

If you study the life of Jesus you will not only discover a God-man full of integrity and character. You may also discover that He likes to do things differently…a lot.

When I first started out in ministry as a volunteer and then young ministry leader, I was convinced that the way I was doing things was the best possible way to minister to teens and families. Call it arrogance, call it being naive, or simply call it being blind. Many years later as a seasoned ministry leader I’m learning to appreciate the richness that diversity has to offer.

Diversity is an interesting word. To some it means embracing a laissez-faire attitude towards life and leadership, while to others it means uncovering and celebrating the different personalities, character and dreams that people possess. For me, diversity is a value; one that liberates a leader from a narrow frame of modus operandi.

Back to Jesus.

If you study the miracles that Jesus performed during His time on earth, you will discover that each one is uniquely different and yet completely amazing. He spits into mud and rubs it onto the eyes of a blind man restoring his sight, He changes water into wine through a simple exercise of refilling empty wine barrels, He speaks to a dead man inviting him to step back into life, and he prays over a small lunch in order to feed a gathered crowd of over 5000 people. And these are just a few of the miracles Jesus performed!

If you take a deeper look into the people that Jesus interacted with, you will again discover this theme and value of diversity. Jesus took the time to notice and to befriend anyone who was willing to be known by Him.

If Jesus embraced and lived this value of diversity, shouldn’t our families, churches and ministry communities do the same? Is there room for diversity in your current ministry context, or are you asking everyone to be like everybody else?

Here are a few questions that I’m asking in my life and in my ministry to help me refine the value of diversity:

1. Do I create space where people with different stories, personalities, abilities and learning styles can connect?
2. Do I take the time to celebrate someones uniqueness as well as to look for something that we might have in common?
3. Do I encourage other ministry leaders who do ministry different than I do to keep leading into their uniqueness, or do I suggest that they should copy what I do?
4. Do I possess a balance between creativity and imitation in my pursuit of embracing diversity as a value?

So what about you…how have you seen the value of diversity impact the lives of people? Are there additional questions you’d add to this list to help refine the pursuit of diversity as a value?